Perhaps, it’s not best to start with the ones that didn’t quiet make the cut but these days were vital to the overall success and enjoyment of the top ten days of the season!
In order to pull off some of the descents made this year, preparation was mandatory. All the experience I gained in the 2 seasons prior provided a nice foundation to build upon and further my skillset.
Originally, I had limited myself to climbing mountains that didn’t involve any technical aspects. Anything that required a rope, a rappel, or other safety measures, I didn’t want too mess with. But, my backcountry skills progressed faster than I could’ve anticipated.
I suppose that makes sense because in my short, 3-year backcountry career I’ve logged close to 200 days. Many, of those days, have been pretty large (i.e. 8+ miles and 3,500-4,500′ of vertical gain).
The ’20-’21 winter would test all my skills, experience level and require that I get even further out of my comfort zone and learn the technical skills.
My season really started on Loveland Pass, with a companion rescue course to brush up on my rescue skills if someone were to get buried in an avalanche. I would meet some great people in that course; one of the guys I would sync back up with and ride some great Colorado lines with.
Next up on the educational side of this season was Rocky Mountain National Park, where I took my AIARE Level 2 course. Avalanche education is an ongoing thing and no matter your experience, it’s imperative that you continue to learn about these phenomena’s of nature.
That Level 2 course would also provide me the opportunity to meet up with some great backcountry partners. Two of which would help me learn how to ice climb and one of those would join me on the day that takes the #1 spot on this years top ten countdown. (sorry no spoilers)
Honorable Mention #1
4 Weekends of Ice Climbing – Steamboat & Ouray, CO
I cut my ice climbing teeth (no pun intended) at in Steamboat Springs, CO at Fish Creek Falls. This area isn’t the most well known area to ice climb, in Colorado. (That would probably be Ouray. I would find myself there a few weeks later.) But, it did the trick and I am very thankful for this positive learning environment and great friends who were willing to help me out.
Three out of four weekends in January, I met my new friends / mentors to go ice climbing. We met in Steamboat twice and then once over in Rocky Mountain National Park. The day in Rocky will be one I won’t forget. The ice climbing was fun and we went over how to lead climb, briefly.
But, it won’t be the ice climbing I remember the most about that day. I woke up early and made the trek from Grand Junction. I think we met around 9 AM or so. It was an early start but I was happy to make the drive to meet them. After we finished climbing, we had dinner and shared some great conversation.
I headed back to GJ and all would go smoothly until about an hour away. In Rifle, I started running into snow. No big deal really. The interstate was still clear. However, as I got closer and closer to Junction, the snow was pilling up more quickly. I was staying with a buddy on the Grand Mesa so I exited the DeBeque cutoff exit.
Long story short, I would find myself stuck, at 2 in the morning in about 8″ of snow on the windy, mountain road. I was tired and all I wanted to do was to get home but mother nature would give me another test. Luckily, I purchased some traction devices and they came in real clutch. After about 20 minutes or so, I managed to get unstuck and finally make it back safely. The journey is the reward, right?
Most of January and February would be ice climbing, analyzing snow, monitoring avalanche conditions, and riding some high quality snow (especially in the Tetons). Jackson Hole Mountain Guide, Woody Lowder, would introduce me to my first technical ski/snowboard line.
I can’t recommend Woody enough. Every time I go out with him, we find ourselves in great conditions, even if it hadn’t snowed in weeks. This guy knows the Tetons. Book him, you won’t be disappointed.
Honorable Mention #2
First Technical Lines – Jackson, WY
Woody and I set our sites on more technical terrain. 25 Short is a popular backcountry zone in Grand Teton National Park. Known mostly for it’s lower angled, tree terrain, this area gets a lot of use, as it’s very accessible from the Taggert Lake TH. I spent several days exploring this zone and found some pretty good snow.
However, the North side of 25 Short is a bit less tame, having multiple lines that require a rappel to get into. One morning, we set out to go ski the “Broken Thumb Couloir.” We got wind that there may be another group heading up to ski the same line. So, we left the trailhead and made our way up, hoping to be the first ones there. We ended up being a few minutes behind and a group beat us to the top.
Things would turn out okay though, as we just continued up the ridge and found our way to the top of the “Moonwalk” couloir. (Not “Chute the Moon.”) The “Moonwalk” couloir required a short little rappel to get down past the rocks.
First time rappelling into real terrain went pretty smooth. Our efforts were rewarded, as we looked down upon the short, steep run to untouched powder conditions. The turns in here were very sweet. Upon our exit, we traversed over a bit to the “Chuter Buck” line, which would also require a rappel.
“Chuter Buck” would be my first line riding with some exposure. There’s a pinch half way down the line that requires a rappel. Although, in the conditions we found it in this day, we might could have just hucked it. I’m not a big cliff hucker/jumper guy so it’s probably best we rappelled.
While these lines were relatively tame, it felt good to get some technical descents under my belt. I knew things would only progress from here and boy would they! There was plenty more to come from the Tetons.
Honorable Mention #3
Deep Day on the Grand Mesa
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a day on the Grand Mesa somewhere on this list. I’ve got a couple of secret zones I know about that require a pretty good trek in but provide some really fun snowboarding when the conditions are right. These zones are mostly low angle too so it makes them good go to’s when the avalanche danger is high.
For this one, I would join a new partner, whom I met on the Mesa’s most popular backcountry zone, Old Mesa Creek. We would break trail most of the day and the snow was deep! We traded off breaking trail because it was quite tiring. This day was actually my first day back in Colorado, after spending 6 days in Southern Utah getting my Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification.
We would log about 12 miles and over 4,000′ of vertical gain, while putting down 6 lines (3 lines a piece) on an untouched canvas of pristine, western slope powder. It was a beautiful day with a new friend/backcountry partner. This day certainly helped strengthen the legs for bigger days to come.
This was a nice warm up. Like taking a more mellow line for the first of the day. Getting the cobwebs and rust shaken off before getting into the bigger and badder lines. This was a nice little warm up for me, as I haven’t written (and shared) in quite a while. I’m looking forward to writing more and sharing the adventures of this season with all of you.
For the season overview, click here!